Cold and flu season has officially begun. Snow has blanketed the northern half of the country a few times before December. And if you live further south, there’s a good chance that you have begun layering yourself with thicker, warmer clothes every morning.
To be clear, you don’t get sick from going outside in the cold. You don’t get sick from being cold. You don’t get sick from not drying your hair.
You get sick from viruses. Sure, prolonged exposure to the cold can lower your immune system’s ability to fight invading germs and viruses. But to truly protect yourself from getting the cold or flu, you must protect yourself from viruses. So let’s review some prevention practices and also some healthy habits proven to strengthen your immune system.
How Viruses Spread and How to Stop Them
On the mirco level, viruses infiltrate and replicate inside the cells of healthy organisms. There are countless ways they can spread from organism to organism. Commonly, when infected people sneeze or cough, virus-infected droplets project several feet from their mouths. If you breathe the air shared by these droplets, there’s a good chance that the virus entered your body.
Viruses also live on commonly touched things such as door handles, phones, hand towels, remote controls and more. They can spread viruses even days after they were originally contaminated.
In short, viruses are everywhere. And they move faster during cold and flu season because more people tend to stay indoors, in enclosed spaces, breathing recirculated air. Prevention is fairly simple, however, when practiced consistently and with the understanding of how viruses spread.
For starters, cough into your elbow so that viruses aren’t flying through the air or on your hands. When you cough into your hand or fist, you’ll spread germs to everything you touch.
If you are infected, consider your face as a virus’ ground zero. Runny noses, the area around your mouth, facial hair – all are virus bastions. Avoid touching your face when possible. (Actually avoid touching your face when you’re not infected, too, to avoid bringing other people’s germs to your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears.)
Of course, you can’t avoid touching everything (by the way, using a handkerchief to touch everything only spreads viruses more!) but you can thoroughly wash your hands for 20 seconds:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Water and soap work best, but if they aren’t available in the moment, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a fine substitute.
Three More Power-Packed Prevention Methods
- Take a daily probiotic. Probiotics fight off cold and flu viruses on the bacterial level inside your body. They don’t fight them blow-by-blow per se, but rather by boosting your immune system so that it’s properly armed to fight off invading viruses and diseases. Look for a probiotic with at least 10 billion CFUs.
- Get more sleep with melatonin. Melatonin’s natural ability to help you fall asleep and stay asleep is an underappreciated weapon against a cold or flu. While you sleep, your body rests and repairs itself. And when I say your body, I mean everything in your body – your muscles, your organs, your major systems, including your immune system. Sleeping better helps prevent sickness and it helps ward it off if you caught a virus already. I suggest you take 1-3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Give yourself a multi-vitamin boost. Look for a high-quality multi-vitamin, especially one with antioxidants and vitamins C and D. Antioxidants and vitamin C are established cold fighters, but recent studies show that taking vitamin D reduces the risk of respiratory infections. That’s critical during winter because we don’t get nearly the amount of vitamin D from sunlight as we do in the summer.
Aubrey, Allison. “A Bit More Vitamin D Might Help Prevent Colds and Flu.” NPR. Published February 16, 2017.
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